Decision Fatigue Is Leading Me Into Major Burnout

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 

I pride myself on being a connective parent, one who is attuned to her children’s needs and works hard to meet them. But the coronavirus pandemic has taken its toll. We’ve been learning and working from home since March, with no end in sight. I’m burned out.

It’s not just breaking up sibling arguments, bickering with husband, trying to squeeze in exercise while working, and making tons of food that’s taken a toll on my patience. The decision fatigue has become the hardest part of this sheltering-at-home gig.

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I can’t go five minutes without being asked to make a choice. It might be the kids asking what we’re having for snack or me trying to decide between troubleshooting the Wi-Fi or picking up an awaited phone call. Just when I’m about to make a decision, another person interjects, needing me to make a decision after the decision. Yes, it’s a never-ending cycle.

Decision-making is relentless, almost like a child’s temper tantrum. You can only shut out the noise for so long before you have to do something. You’ll either flip your lid, step away, or try to (unsuccessfully) intervene. Once one tantrum is over, the next one begins.

At first, being home was sort of like a staycation. Yes, we still had to work and attend school, but the expectations were lowered. We had more time. We slept-in a little, had meals and snacks together, and had recess outdoors. The weather warmed up and our moods were better. We also believed, like many, that the virus would be short-lived. Surely, there would be a quick and easy treatment and the spring weather would magically carry the virus away, making it a distant memory by summer.

However, as the days, then weeks, then months dragged on, reality set in. There was nothing quick and easy about the pandemic—and there still isn’t. Every day, my family depends on me to decide what our meal plan is for the week, the daily schedule, the division of chores, and so much more. Who will get the shower first tonight? How do we coordinate music instrument practices (one of which is the drums) with dad’s work phone calls and my writing sessions? When remote learning, I bounce from kid to kid, solving problems, taking requests, and trying not to lose my ever-loving mind.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m very thankful to live in a safe home where we can be together. We have space to play, work, and learn. However, all the togetherness has further pressured me to be the decider of all-the-things for my family. I’m downright exhausted, and I don’t think a single day of self-care or an afternoon nap can fix the nearly-a-year of decision fatigue.

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On one hand, I don’t want to be left in the dark. I’m a type-A person, and yes, I can be the stereotypical control freak. I like to know what’s going to happen, and I’m good at organizing. But even with my skill set, such as creating chore charts and coordinating who-does-what-when, my brain and body are tired of being asked yet one more question.

These are not life and death decisions. Rather, these are thousands and thousands of small choices that pile up, some of them affecting the outcome of the next. Oftentimes, I’m making several decisions at once.

My husband and I differ in that I tend to make quick decisions, while he is much more thoughtful and detailed. This means that the kids know they need to come to me if they want a definite and prompt answer. I knew this marrying my husband, and in some cases, his deliberate decisions are better than my quickly-determined ones. When it comes to longer-term planning, my husband knows how to make the right choice.

The unfortunate thing is, the everyday decisions, the details of remote learning, keeping the house in order, and parenting, fall on me. Some of these I take pride in and am thankful for. Lately though, I’ve been feeling resentful of the fact that I’m asked to solve yet another problem.

I know some are reading this and thinking, pass some responsibility off to others. Trust me, my kids do a lot on their own. I’m not raising helpless, entitled kids. I’m a former college teacher, and I’ve seen the outcome of parents who do everything for their children. It’s not pretty, friends.

I also know that some of you are thinking I should just practice some self-care. Trust me, I do. I’ve taken long, nightly baths for months. I sleep in on the weekends. I read and binge Netflix. However, the reality is that most days, for most of the waking hours, I’m on. If you’re a parent, so are you.

The hustle and bustle of the day wears on any parent. We are doing our best, in the midst of a situation that none of us ever thought we’d be in. Remember when we said that 2020 would be our best year ever? The joke is on us.

Today, my kids came up to me, each asking for a different snack at the exact same time, forty-five minutes after lunch. For a second, I just stood there, my ears ringing as they swarmed me like bees. Then I told them, nope. No, just no. Later, one kid asked me if they could have their tech time early. This prompted two more kids to start pleading with me, too. Again, I was like, nope. I rarely give in to any sort of pleading and whining. But there have been a few times during this pandemic that I’ve become so overwhelmed by their demands that I’ve said, I’m not accepting any requests. I’m not a freaking DJ at a wedding reception.

There have also been times when I’ve completely shut down, summoned my husband, and abandoned him in the middle of a work-and-school day so I can hide in my room. I just need five seconds of someone not asking me to make a decision, no matter how simple or small that request is.

This pandemic has brought out the best and worst in each of us, and it’s certainly been a teachable season. I’ve learned to create more boundaries, while also learning to let go of what doesn’t really matter. However, despite all of the self-care, the support of my partner, and kids who are overall well-behaved and respectful, I’m beyond tired of making decisions.

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